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Published on December 23, 2020

How To Parent An Only Child: 7 Essential Tips

How To Parent An Only Child: 7 Essential Tips

As a kid, my most far fetched fantasy was to be an only child—not an only child with my real parents but with imaginary parents who put me first in everything, spent all their money on me, and whose lives revolved around me.

I imagined that they would buy me horses, I would live in my own suite in a mansion, and I would have my own maid who would wait on me. Of course, my imaginary mother would be by my side day and night to grant my every wish and dote on me.

This fantasy was obviously far fetched. I grew up in a home with six kids. My parents were loving and wonderful. My fantasy life would have ruined me. I would not have learned life skills such as responsibility, sharing, giving to others, service of others, hard work, or selflessness.

Being an only child may be a dream for some. However, parents must be aware of some issues that are associated with raising a single child. Below are some essential tips for parents.

1. Avoid Overindulging or Spoiling the Child

One of the dangers of having an only child is spoiling them by giving them too much. It is easier to do this when there aren’t siblings in line wanting toys and gifts as well. Having one child makes it easy to overindulge them.

We can curb that tendency by setting limits. Determine how many gifts or a specific dollar amount for each holiday and stick to that limit.

You can also have them earn the things that they want. If they the newest video game, then have them do chores to earn money so they can earn it themselves. This can help delay gratification and teach them the value of earning something they desire.

2. Do Not Treat the Child Like a Fellow Adult in the Household

With only one child in the household, it becomes easy for parents to start treating them as an adult. Around age 8 or 9, many children show maturity and have adult-like behaviors. It becomes easy for parents to embrace this behavior because they understand it. However, the child is still a child, so they need to be treated as one.

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RaisingChildren.net explains that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until adulthood.[1] Even teenagers will act impulsively because their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed.

Parents need to understand that impulsive behaviors happen with children because of this. So, we can’t expect children to be adults because they are not there yet in terms of development. Allow them to be children. They only get to be one once in their lives.

3. Socialize Your Child With Their Peers

A research article by Kitzman and Lockwood (2020) in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that children who grow up without siblings are less able to handle conflict with their peers.[2] This is likely attributed to not having regular conflict resolution activities with siblings.

Therefore, socialization with peers is of utmost importance. But even beyond that, parents should allow their children to resolve their own peer conflicts whenever possible. This will teach them how to get along with their peers and resolve conflicts on their own.

Often, parents want to protect their child and will interfere with peer interactions if they see their child is going to be emotionally hurt. Parents should teach their kids conflict resolution skills by talking about how to react in these situations. Teaching them how to deal with their peer conflicts and to only seek adult intervention when necessary (such as the risk of physical harm) is helpful to the child’s social skill development.

4. Set Realistic Expectations

When adults are only raising one child, they can have all of their hopes and dreams wrapped up in them. Parents should set realistic expectations. Children are individuals, and they are not you. They are their own person and as such, they have their own gifts, talents, and abilities that differ from your own. You should assess them on their own abilities, not yours.

Expecting a child to be a super sports star and bound for the ivy league may not be reasonable. Each of them is special and unique.

If someone has four kids, we may see one who excels at sports, another who excels at academics, another who is artistic, and another who is completely unknown in their talents and gifts because they are still young. With an only child, we can’t expect them to fulfill all the dreams, hopes, and ambitions that could fill an entire family of six.

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Seek to find out what your child may be good at in life. They may have certain activities that they excel in and others that they do not. Encourage them in all that they do, but don’t set expectations that are unreasonable and unattainable.

5. Give Them Chores to Teach Responsibility

Having one child makes it easier to do all the work in the household because it is doing laundry and cleaning up after for only one person.

Parents with three kids are more likely to require their children to chip in on household chores out of necessity. One parent can’t keep up with the messes and work involved with a bigger family.

Children who are the only child in a home must still be required to do chores. It will help them learn about responsibility. They will also learn practical life skills such as how to fold laundry, how to properly wash dishes, and how to vacuum and clean the home.

It can be empowering for them to do chores, especially if they are rewarded for extra chores so they can earn things that they want.

6. Don’t Be Their Constant Entertainment

Kids want attention and time from their parents. It is wonderful for parents to give this to their children, but there should be a balance.

If, for example, a stay at home mom has only one child, she is not expected to constantly entertain the child all day long. Parents need time to get their own work and housework completed, along with time for themselves.

It becomes easy for parents to feel guilty about not playing with their child enough, especially when the child is constantly asking for the parent to play. Parents should set reasonable expectations for their kids when it comes to entertaining them.

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For example, the stay-at-home mom may say to her only child, “I am going to play trains with you for 20 minutes and then you can play for 20 minutes on your own while I do the laundry.”

Finding playgroups or moms with children who are similar ages to your own child is helpful. This can help the child with the playtime that they naturally desire with others. When they don’t have peers or siblings to engage in play with, then they do depend on their parents to be their playmates.

Parents can find friends of their child’s own age to provide them with the engagement and play they need and want.

7. Find Activities to Engage Your Child With Their Peers

There was a window of time—before I had our twins and when our foster daughter was no longer living with us—when it was just our own daughter in our home. That was a great opportunity for me to get out of the house and find places and activities that would engage our daughter with her peers.

She was over a year old by that time, so she was ready to play with other children and have activities that would help with her development.

Library Story Time

One activity that we enjoyed was the library storytime. Most public libraries offer programs for parents and their kids. These storytimes often have stories being read along with additional activities that engage the children and require interaction with all of them together. Such activities we have done during the library storytime include parachute time and crafts.

If you are with your child at storytime and they are getting along with other children there, then take the opportunity to introduce yourself to their parent. You can even ask if they would like to get together at a local playground in the future since they play well together.

MOPS

Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) is an international organization. They typically meet at local churches and there are programs for the mothers while the children are cared for together in the nursery. This allows the children to play with their peers while moms can connect with fellow moms. You can find a MOPS group near you by going to the MOPS Website.

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Baby Gym

You can sign your little one up for baby gym classes. There are a variety of businesses that offer programs and classes that are geared specifically for babies, toddlers, and children. Some of these businesses include My Gym, The Little Gym, and Gymboree. These types of locations and the classes they offer provide a great opportunity for children to play with their peers as the classes are typically grouped by age.

Our family has attended classes at three different baby gym locations. My kids loved the activities and meeting with kids their own age. It was also how I met several of my closest friends when our family moved across the country. These ladies had kids the same age as mine, so I invited them to my home for a playdate. I had snacks for the children, coffee for the moms, and the kids had fun playing together in our playroom area.

Don’t miss opportunities to connect with parents who have kids the same age as your own child. You may create some friendships for life!

Other Classes

I have taken my kids to music classes and swimming classes. In both of these instances, they were able to connect with children their own age. Again, it is an opportunity to meet fellow parents, so you can arrange playdates or playground meet-ups with fellow parents who have children the same age.

Some other types of classes and activities that you may find locally—by googling your location and the type of activity—include kid’s yoga, “mommy and me” cooking classes, children’s museum programs, and baby sign language classes.

Final Thoughts

The biggest takeaway for parents raising an only child is understanding that their kid will need socialization with their peers. Since they don’t have any siblings, the parents must get their kids out of the house and find places where they can play with children their own age.

Parents can be intentional about this by seeking out activities and classes that are geared for their child’s age. Then, they can take that opportunity to connect with other parents so that playdates can set up with their new friends in the future.

More Parenting Tips

Featured photo credit: Danielle MacInnes via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on May 21, 2021

Bedtimes For Kids At Different Ages (Your Go-To Guide)

Bedtimes For Kids At Different Ages (Your Go-To Guide)

Bedtimes for kids might be one of the most challenging parts of the day. Parents are tired and ready to relax, while kids of all ages seem to find extra energy and want nothing to do with sleep. One more story, one more trip to the bathroom, and one more question quickly make for a late-night, and no one gets the rest they need.

If this happens often, you might start wondering if you and your child are getting the proper amount of sleep and how to make bedtime easier. Why is it so crucial for your child to get enough sleep? What does sleep deprivation look like? How do you improve bedtimes for kids?

How Sleep Impacts Your Child’s Health

Whether young or old, sleep is a vital part of staying healthy. There are many benefits to getting the right amount of sleep while not getting enough can have negative consequences. How does it impact your child?[1]

  • Brain Function – Sleep is linked to certain brain functions such as concentration, productivity, and cognition. These all impact a child’s behavior and academic success.
  • Weight – Sleep patterns affect the hormones responsible for appetite. A lack of sleep interferes with the ability to regulate food intake, making overeating more likely.
  • Physical Performance – Sleep impacts a person’s physical abilities. Proper rest means better performance, concentration, energy, mental clarity, and faster speed.
  • Physical Health – There are many ways sleep promotes health. Sleep heals the body but also helps prevent disease and health issues. Getting proper rest will regulate blood pressure, help prevent heart disease, reduce chances of sleep apnea, reduce inflammation, boost immune system, and lower risk of weight gain.
  • Improve Mental Health – A lack of sleep has a negative impact on mood and social and emotional intelligence. A child not getting proper sleep is more likely to experience depression, lack empathy and be unaware of other people’s emotions and reactions.

Sleep, Risky Behavior, and Teens

Studies found that teens were more likely to engage in risky behavior when they are sleep-deprived. They’ll have problems regulating their mood, making them more short-tempered, aggressive, and impulsive. Their inability to self-regulate can even look like the symptoms of ADHD.[2]

Sleep deprivation becomes hazardous when teens are driving. The impulsiveness and risk-taking, along with exhaustion, put them at a higher risk for accidents. In fact, driving tired is comparable to driving with a blood alcohol content of .08.[3]

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You can see why sleep is so essential to everyone’s health, but how much is needed? What do pediatricians recommend? Is it the same for all ages?

Sleep Recommendations From Pediatricians

Sleep requirements vary by age. It won’t be the same for every individual. Some people find that they need more sleep than others.

Here is a basic guideline of what pediatricians now recommend:[4]

  • Ages 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
  • Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
  • Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hours

Increase the amount of sleep if your child isn’t thriving on the recommended amount.

Signs Your Child Isn’t Getting Enough Sleep

There are ways to tell if your child is getting adequate sleep beyond the usual grumpiness. Here are specific things to watch out for:[5]

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  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Difficulty waking up on time
  • Hyperactivity
  • Depression
  • Inattention
  • Mood swings
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Impulse control

As you can see, prolonged lack of sleep can cause relational problems and hinder your child’s ability to do well in school. What can you do if you realize your child is not getting enough sleep? How can you improve bedtimes for your kids?

How to Set Up a Bedtime Routine

Sleep hygiene or a bedtime schedule will help your child fall asleep faster. It will also improve the quality of sleep. You will need to adjust to what works for your family, but the following suggestions can help everyone have a more pleasant bedtime.

For Babies

Most people think they have to let their baby “cry it out” at bedtime. However, there are ways you can teach a baby to sleep without tears, making the experience more pleasant for everyone. In fact, studies show the faded bedtime method—or gentle sleep training—is just as effective as leaving a baby to cry but without the stress.[6] What is gentle sleep training?

Gentle Sleep Training

This method eases babies and young children into falling asleep on their own. There are two ways to do this:

1. Positive Routines With Faded Bedtime

Kids learn to fall asleep easily by using comforting, quiet, and predictable rituals, up to twenty minutes long. The key is to choose a bedtime that’s not too early. A child that isn’t tired will only fight sleep.

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Start the process when your baby or child is sleepy, even if it’s later than you’d prefer. You’ll notice a pattern and quickly discover the time they naturally start winding down. Make this their bedtime for now. They will learn to associate sleep with the routine, and you’ll be able to start fifteen to twenty minutes earlier to slowly adjust their schedule.

2. Sleep With Parental Presence

With this method, you lie down with your baby or child until they fall asleep. Over time, you pay less attention to your child, gradually sitting up, then sitting in a chair. Eventually, your child will be able to sleep without you. A study showed that using this method helped infants sleep longer and wake up less.[7]

Both of these ways take time but are effective and less traumatic than leaving an infant or young child to cry.

More Tips to Help Your Baby Sleep Better

You want to build a routine, but how? What are practical things you can do to help your baby get ready for bed?

Here are tips for a soothing and calm bedtime:[8]

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  • Help set their “internal clock” by exposing them to natural daylight, daytime activities, and the calmness of evening.
  • Block blue light exposure.
  • Make the hour up to bedtime calm, peaceful, and pleasant.
  • Learn how to keep stress minimal for you and your baby.
  • Don’t force sleep. It will increase anxiety and make rest more difficult.
  • Avoid late afternoon naps
  • Prolong the time between nap and bedtime.
  • Feed baby right before bed.
  • Avoid intervening too soon if the baby starts to wake up. Give your child a chance to fall back asleep without your help.

For Elementary-Aged Children

It’s easier to follow a routine if you start young, but it’s never too late to begin. The good news is it only takes a few nights to notice an improvement in your child’s sleep.

These ideas will help you set up a schedule that will encourage your child to fall asleep easier, faster, and for a more extended period.[9]

  • Offer them a nutritious snack.
  • Bathe them.
  • Brush their teeth and go to the bathroom.
  • Read them a story.
  • Sing them a song.
  • Cuddle or massage them.
  • Talk about the day.

For best results, choose a handful of activities and do them in the same order each night. Dim the lights and keep activity minimal to help everyone slow down.

For Teens

They might fight the idea of getting more sleep, but teens will benefit from a routine, too. They’re usually capable of overseeing their bedtime, but a little structure and oversight can help them get the sleep they need. By implementing the following tips, your teen can get better rest.[10]

  • Avoid caffeine in the evening.
  • Limit screen time.
  • Avoid late-night binging.
  • Exercise, ideally sixty minutes a day.
  • Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Talk through problems.

Quality Sleep for a Healthy Life

Bedtimes for kids can be an enjoyable part of the day with proper sleep hygiene in place. Not only can it be quality time with your child, but it can also set them on the road to good health and high performance. By implementing these tips, you can ensure proper rest for the whole family and better bedtimes for kids.

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Featured photo credit: Igordoon Primus via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Medical News Today: Why Sleep Is Essential For Health
[2] Child Mind Institute: Teens And Sleep: The Cost Of Sleep Deprivation
[3] Depart of Health: Drowsy Driving Prevention, Teens Ages 16 To 19
[4] AAP publications: AAP Endorses New Recommendations On Sleep Times
[5] Journal of Excellence in Nursing Leadership: Sleep Deprivation In Children A Growing Public Health Concern
[6] Parenting Science: Gentle Infant Sleep Training
[7] BetterHealth: Solutions to sleep concerns (11) – babies 6 to 12 months
[8] Parenting Science: 15 Evidence-Based Baby Sleep Tips
[9] Sleep Foundation: Bedtime Routines For Children
[10] NHS: Sleep Tips For Teenagers

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